How data plays a key role in the fight against Omicron

Dr Ana Jimenez, Director of Quality at Asian Hospital and Medical Center, shares how the hospital optimises resource usage through a hospital group-level COVID-19 dashboard

The COVID-19 Omicron variant currently sweeping the globe has proven to be highly transmissible, being two to three times as likely to spread as Delta. Though it has so far been shown to cause milder disease, Omicron has still greatly impacted hospital operations.

At Asian Hospital and Medical Center (AHMC) in the Philippines, some 13% of its staff are currently on quarantine after testing positive for the virus, shared Dr Ana Maria Y. Jimenez, its Director of Quality.

“The staff infection rate is exponentially increasing. Right now we are at 54% positivity rate in our hospitals, meaning one in every two employees are infected,” she said.

The hospital has put in strict infection control measures, and thus none of the infections were through exposure to patients. Based on current data, 80% of the infections are community-acquired, with the remaining 20% through infections from co-workers.

Although infected staff are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, they are not allowed to return work unless they are completely asymptomatic. This has created a serious manpower shortage problem.

“Prior to the pandemic, we’ve already been experiencing a lack of staff, specifically nursing staff, here in the Philippines. Though we have 300 licensed beds, our functional bed capacity was cut to 50% due to lack of staff. Now with the Omicron variant, this capacity has been further cut,” Dr Ana explained.

Based on historical trends and current data, such as case trends seen in South Africa where the variant was first reported, the hospital predicts that the number of Omicron cases will peak sometime in the next one or two weeks, followed by a sharp drop. The key would be to pull staff together to weather the storm over this period.

“The remaining staff are tired, working overtime or straight shifts,” said Dr Ana. “We try to incentivise them and boost morale through small tokens of appreciation and support them whenever we can.”

COVID-19 data dashboard 

To improve the efficiency of its pandemic response and optimise resource utilisation, AHMC and its parent hospital group, Metro Pacific Hospital Group, has been leveraging on a group-level COVID-19 data dashboard. This tracks the COVID-19 patient count – further broken down by severity of disease – as well as length of stay, PPE and ventilator utilisation, and other key metrics.

First created in March 2020, the shared dashboard has enabled collaborations between hospitals under the group, for example in sharing equipment and supplies between each other. This includes crucial pandemic resources such as PPEs, ventilators and medications. Sourcing and purchase of these resources are done at the group level to secure better terms and prices.

dashboard
A section of the COVID-19 dashboard

 

Such data has also helped in optimising operations on the individual hospital level as well. Dr Ana shared that data points that are closely tracked include COVID-19 drug utilisation, to make sure stocks are always available.

“Another example is the mechanical ventilators, we make sure to return the outsourced ones that are no longer needed to minimise cost. We also made adjustments in terms of staffing levels – knowing how highly transmissible this variant is, we applied flexible work and work from home arrangements for staff who do not have to be here at the hospital,” she added.

“Also, in terms of bed utilisation, we are prioritising the patients who need the beds the most, and ensuring timely discharge of those who no longer need the beds because beds are really precious right now.”

Preparing for the next variant

The onset of Delta and Omicron has shown how volatile and uncertain the pandemic is. It’s anyone’s guess how the next variant will look like, and when it will hit our shores.

How can hospitals ensure they are prepared and ready for what COVID-19 unleashes next? In Dr Ana’s opinion, data will indeed continue to play an extremely important role in the hospital’s business continuity planning.

“The best we can do for now is to keep ourselves abreast or updated with the latest science, and make data-driven decisions,” she said.

“We are taking a close look at our historical data from the first surge to now, to forecast the potential risks, whether it’s in staffing, supplies, equipment or even drugs… We have to evaluate our response, and then prepare for the next variant. We cannot just wait.”

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